The World Today for December 29, 2016


NAFTA: Here to Stay

With Donald Trump’s administration soon to become a reality, many are wondering how he plans to make good on his many controversial campaign promises.

For Mexico, that means bracing for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, the trade deal signed by the US, Canada and Mexico in 1994.

On the campaign trail, President-elect Trump decried NAFTA as a “total and complete disaster” that has drained the US economy of well-paying manufacturing jobs. Trump pledged to renegotiate or pull the US out of the pact if he could not improve it.

By many estimates, the elimination of NAFTA would be much less calamitous for the US than for Mexico, which has transformed itself into a regional manufacturing powerhouse for cars, computers and aerospace products since the agreement came into effect.

Trade between the US and Mexico is now worth about $500 billion annually, according to Reuters.

But the relationship is an imbalanced one. Mexico is more reliant on the US when it comes to trade. It sends 80 percent of its total exports to the US — five times the proportion of US exports that go to Mexico.

The United Nations estimates that an end to the trade deal would lop off nearly 3 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

Concrete proposals to achieve Trump’s goals have not yet been announced, though Mexico has slashed growth forecasts for 2017 amid a plummeting peso due to NAFTA and other Trump-related fears, according to the Guardian.

On Wednesday, Mexican leaders said the country might be more cooperative in strengthening the border in exchange for keeping NAFTA, reported Reuters. Might this be how Trump convinces Mexico to pay for a wall on the border?

Maybe not. The realities of international trade mean that NAFTA probably won’t be going anywhere in the next four years.

As the Financial Times wrote, tightly integrated supply chains – like the cross-border movement of car components – between the US and Mexico mean that any tariffs imposed on imports would hurt companies on both sides of the border. In turn, American consumers would likely pay more for those products as a result.

Trump’s transition team is already backing down from his previous statements on trade as they see strong political headwinds at home if he attacks NAFTA.

The Republican will likely face what Politico called a “brick wall” from American corporations and his own party in the free-trade friendly Congress, where lawmakers must approve changes to the deal. The powerful US Chamber of Commerce has already vowed to deploy its lobbyists to stop Trump from delivering on his protectionist promises.

So NAFTA is in all likelihood here to stay whether or not Trump attempts to live up to his campaign rhetoric. But that doesn’t mean people are any less nervous.



Fightin’ Words

US Secretary of State John Kerry found the solution to being ignored on Wednesday.

In a scathing speech at the State Department, Kerry accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of thwarting a peace deal with the Palestinians with “clarity and harshness almost never heard from American diplomats when discussing one of their closest and strongest allies,” the New York Times reported.

Netanyahu reacted sharply, calling the speech “unbalanced” and “obsessively focused” on the issue of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories – which were condemned in a controversial United Nations resolution last week, the BBC noted. Though the US abstained from the vote, it also refrained from vetoing the resolution. For his part, Netanyahu accused Washington of orchestrating the move from behind the scenes.

On Wednesday, Kerry doubled down on the UN criticism, saying, “The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation.”

However, President-elect Donald Trump, Republican Senator John McCain and several members of the Democratic Congressional leadership criticized Kerry for abandoning an ally or emboldening extremists on both sides, the Associated Press reported.

Uighur Terror

Police shot and killed four people who blew up a Communist Party office in China’s Xinjiang province in what local authorities described as a terrorist attack.

The bomb killed one person and injured three others, the Associated Press cited a report on a website run by the local Communist Party as saying. It was the first published account of a fatal attack in months, the agency noted.

Xinjiang has been under heavy security since tensions between the local Uighurs and ethnic Chinese migrants erupted in deadly riots in 2009. Those measures were tightened further after several terror attacks that China blamed on Uighur separatists adhering to a radical form of Islam.

However, some critics say that China’s repression of the Uighurs and its policies promoting the migration of ethnic Chinese into Xinjiang have exacerbated tensions and may be driving more and more Uighurs toward radicalism. Others argue that China has used the bogey of Uighur terror to impose restrictions on religious and cultural rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.

Under Fire

After ending the brutal siege of Aleppo, Russia is suing for peace in Syria – and taking fire.

The Russian embassy in Damascus came under mortar fire on Wednesday, forcing diplomats to call in sappers to remove an unexploded shell from the courtyard, the Associated Press reported.

Russia blamed the attack on “extremists.” But following the assassination of the Russian envoy to Turkey the attack is further evidence that Moscow’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has put a target on its back – even as Russia emerges as the dominant power broker in the Middle East.

To that end, Russia is gathering support for a new round of peace talks to be held in Kazakhstan next month that would give Moscow a greater voice in efforts to broker a settlement of the nearly six-year-old conflict, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Announced last week by the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the talks between members of the Syrian government and non-jihadist opposition groups would exclude the US.


When Fido Goes Gray

For some people, gray hair is valued as a marker of distinction and wisdom – even when it’s caused by stress and anxiety.

For many a dog, premature gray hairs are simply seen as adorable.

But new research published in Applied Animal Behavior Science suggests that Fido is paying a price for his distinguished good looks. A new study shows there might be a correlation between gray canines and high anxiety levels.

According to the results of the study, whose team included noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, young dogs with gray hair tend to be more anxious than their non-gray peers when confronted with “scary things,” like loud noises, strangers and unfamiliar dogs.

The study team photographed over 400 dogs between the ages of one and four years and sent their owners a survey containing questions on their dogs’ anxious behaviors, among other things.

The responses indicated a link between premature canine graying and anxious behavior.

Correlation is not causation, and researchers caution the results don’t prove that stress is a direct cause of gray hair. But the study might cause some owners to provide better care for their pets if they treat the anxiety accompanying these gray hairs.

“It’s just another way that people can potentially make life better and easier for many dogs,” said one animal behaviorist about the study on her blog.

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